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Wednesday, September 18, 2013
It's down to one last stand in the desert

By Mark Saxon

PHOENIX -- You could sense the Los Angeles Dodgers' determination as they desperately tried to crawl that final inch, but their search for the National League West title remains exactly that -- a crawl.

They fought back from a 4-0 deficit to get to within one run, but after some bad breaks, they lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks, 9-4, at Chase Field on Wednesday night. Their magic number remained stuck on two. They only have one more chance, Thursday afternoon, to finish it off in the tidiest manner, against the team they're trying to eliminate.

For now, the champagne stayed neatly tucked away in the visiting clubhouse, the plastic sheeting stored nearby.

The Dodgers, hot as lava from late June through early September, have lost 10 of their past 14 games with the prize so close.

Wednesday they had a turn of misfortune at a bad time. Michael Young appeared to get his hand on home plate ahead of Miguel Montero's tag in the sixth inning, but umpire Jim Joyce, running toward the plate from his first-base position, called him out.

Adrian Gonzalez, who had hit the double that sent Young home, was so upset, he was ejected by second-base umpire Andy Fletcher. Gonzalez is a laid-back sort and it was only the third ejection of his career. It proved costly because, after that, the Dodgers' only power bats were Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig.

Arizona scored five eighth-inning runs off Ronald Belisario and Peter Moylan to keep the Dodgers stuck an inch from the finish line.

The game was televised by ESPN and the first four innings gave viewers in other cities a pretty good summation of everything Puig. He was as exciting as ever, both when he got picked off second base following his leadoff double and when his powerful arm intimidated Montero from trying to score in the third inning.

The Dodgers' biggest worry with Puig is that he'll get angry or upset and lose focus at a critical moment. After he had been picked off, he seemed in a bit of a fog when Adam Eaton grounded a hit to right field. Puig took his time and Eaton hustled his way to second for a double. It wouldn't have mattered where he was in the end, because Paul Goldschmidt -- who else? -- homered to give Arizona a 2-0 lead.

Puig hit a 442-foot home run to spark the Dodgers' offense to life in the fourth inning. It always seems to be the good and the bad with Puig, in this case in roughly equal measure.

The Dodgers had to fight to get out of the hole the Diamondbacks dug them against spot starter Stephen Fife, who was lifted in the third inning having given up four runs and six hits. The Dodgers gave Fife the start to afford ace Clayton Kershaw extra rest in anticipation of a deep run in the playoffs.